Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bottling with a Beergun

I've been a big fan of using a Blichman Beergun to bottle my beers since I picked one up about 6 months ago. This post isn't meant to be a product review or an endorsement, but I'm very happy with the way it works and I thought other people might be interested to see some pics of the process.

The full directions are viewable here, so I'm mainly going to try to go over the little details that I've found will result in a good fill with good carbonation.

One of the most important part of bottling with a Beergun is beer preparation. Since you aren't working against counter-pressure, you should actually try to carbonate your kegged beer to slightly higher carbonation than you are looking for in the bottle. I would guess there is a loss of around .2 volumes of CO2 when going from the keg to the bottle. It is also very important to bottle the beer at a colder temperature than you would serve it at, as close to freezing as possible.

In this case I was bottling a pale ale that I had been serving at 36 degrees on about 15 PSI of gas. About 24 hours before bottling, I turned the kegerator thermostat down to 33 and kicked the PSI up to about 19. That got a nice carbonation on the spritzy side, not to like a Belgian beer, but maybe around 2.8 if I had to guess.
The next step of preparation is to sanitize and chill the bottles to the same temperature as the beer. I used a little foil on top to keep any funk out. I chilled the bottles about 2 hours before hand, just to make sure they were good and cold. Having the bottles a little wet inside is a good thing, as it will prevent excessive foaming during the fill.

This is the disassembled Beergun in Starsan. I needed the instructions to set it up the first few times, as it just looks like a mess of bolts and rods when taken apart. One thing to note is that I used Saniclean one time to sanitize, and it left some funky looking black stains on certain parts of the Beergun that I'm sure were not harmful, but they were ugly.

This is what it looks like when you put it all together.

I use a mason jar filled with Starsan to hold the Beergun while I am capping. Here it is with the CO2 purge-line and liquid line attached. You want to keep as much of the liquid line cold as possible, so make sure to put any excess tubing inside the kegerator.

I've got my little work-station set up here with bottle caps, a spill tray, and a cat litter box to sit on. Take note: I am a lefty, so if you are a righty, you'll want all that stuff on your right side.

I take the bottles out a few at a time, purge them for a few seconds with gas, and fill away. I have the CO2 regulator set at 4 PSI, which seems to give a decent rate of flow without too much foam-up.
Here you can see there is some minimal foam, but actual beer loss is very low. As the bottle fills, I lift the Beergun up towards the neck. When it is full, I do not purge the neck with C02 as the instructions say. Instead, I just make sure to cap on foam. It's all CO2 anyway.

You can get a pretty consistent fill level, and you should cap the bottles one at a time. Get a helper if you want to go really fast.

Here is the case of bottles I filled, plus a 1 liter bottle, and the waste comes out to about 2-3 ounces (that is an 8 ounce cup at most). The actual filling took about 12 minutes. Prep and cleanup is very quick, as long as your bottles are clean already.

Additional thoughts:

Sanitation: I absolutely do not like the idea of having a beer hooked up to keg lines, which are clean at best, not sanitary, and then bottling that beer with a Beergun. It seems like way to much of a sanitation risk. OK for the short term, but if you are trying get long-term storage, I would only leave the keg lines hooked up when serving, and disconnect them afterward. Or, buy an extra picnic tap and sanitary line to use before you bottle, and switch to your keg lines later.

Storage: The best way to keep the beer after bottling is refrigerated, or failing that, in the cellar. I don't know what the shelf life of a normal gravity beer is at room temperature. It depends a lot on your overall oxygen pickup after fermentation, and your level of sanitation. That being said, I have had some bottles of barleywine sitting out at room temp (warmer really, my room feels like 85 right now) for a few months and it is showing no signs of oxidation or infection.

Bottling high-carbonation beers: I love Belgian beers and sour beers, and I think you can get a pretty good product into a bottle with fairly high carbonation using a Beergun. It will not be as high as you could get with bottle conditioning, but I have found that if you fill very cold and fill right to the top of the bottle with beer (you are basically capping on beer, not foam) that you can get around 3 volumes of CO2 in the glass. Not bad. EDIT: I would like to try using a longer liquid line to decrease foam-up, possibly increasing the length to 15 feet. It should work as long as the liquid line is kept cold inside the kegerator.

Bottling funky beers: There is always the debate of how much extra complexity a beer will gain with bottle conditioning, but if we are putting that aside, I will say I feel totally comfortable bottling a funky beer with the Beergun, using a separate liquid line of course. All the Beergun parts should be boiled afterwards to insure total sanitation.

Bottling a lot of beer: As I've mentioned before, we've bottled quite a bit of beer at Sixpoint using the Beergun. Last time, I brought mine and Evan brought his. We took turns with 2 people bottling and 1 person capping, and we got through 30 gallons of beer pretty quickly. This is no way to try to run a commercial bottling line, but for packaging samples for beer reps, it beats the hell out of bottle conditioning. The product is a lot closer to the kegged product too.


Dan said...

Thanks for the post. I just started kegging a couple months ago and have only bottled twice using an old bottling wand. If I really want some bottles, I'll just bottle condition about 2 gallons and keg the rest, seems like a good compromise until I get a BG/CPBF.

Tom E said...

Hey Sean. Have you boiled the little rubber nub? I wasn't sure whether or not that thing is rated for boiling temps.

By the way, keep an eye on that thing. After a year or so mine was slipping off intermitently while bottling - a real pain in the ass as you can imagine. Upon closer inspection I noticed that it had some little hairline tears that were really tricky to pick up on without flexing it and examining it closely.

Seanywonton said...

Hey Tom,
I boil my nub all the time... I mean, uh, it didn't melt or anything. Says all parts can be boiled on the website.

Good point on the nub though, as far as they get damaged and are easy to lose. I'd like to buy a spare so I don't lose a bottling day if that thing gets lost. I think they sell them on Morebeer, and you can order direct from Blichman too.

Chillindamos said...

Great tutorial, Sean. I bought a BeerGun from your recommendation and will first use it this fall to bottle out some lagers. I also have a counter-filler which is typically a huge pain to use and is mainly the reason I rarely bottle out some of my kegged beer.

BrewerB said...

Hey Sean,

Do you release pressure in the keg before you start filling? I see that in the Beergun instructions but am not sure you mentioned that here.

Thanks for posting this! I'm looking forward to bottling a batch in the next week.


Seanywonton said...

Yes I would definitely relieve the head pressure and then set the pushing pressure to about 4 psi, give or take a bit depending on how much foam-up you get.